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A Different Aesthetic

Having used a good amount of space here discussing the Singer and City Investing Buildings, it’s worth at least a passing mention of what followed. Both were torn down 1967-68 and replaced by a single building covering both lots, the US Steel Building. Unlike the Second Empire style of Singer or the Gothic(ish) City Investing, US Steel is uncompromising International Style modernism. Tim Michiel’s picture above captures the presence of the building from Broadway quite well.

No one is going to claim that this building is pretty or a welcoming part of the cityscape. This look is about power and it’s quite successful: I rarely feel as small as I do when standing at its base.

There’s a small detail that has attracted a lot of attention, although I’m not sure why. The webs of the spandrel beams are exposed, as opposed to the rest of the perimeter steel where we see facade metal covering fireproofing covering the structural steel. This was managed by some very advanced (for the late 1960s) simulations of heat flow during a fire, showing that the webs would be well-enough protected to merit their require fire-rating. While the analysis is interesting, in terms of the architectural design my response is “so what?” If the analysis had not worked, the building would look nearly identical, with the webs covered in the same manner as the other steel. The difference in knowing I was not seeing any structural steel versus knowing that I am is meaningless.

On the other hand, a happier version of King Kong might have ended with Kong’s children climbing up that ladder for practice.